The pity of yesteryear is that it is often lost in the glitz and razzmatazz of modernity. It would be wonderful if there were films to assist in showing the high marking skills of players like Alex Duncan in those earlier days of VFL football. Word pictures can never really do such players justice; however this story tries to shine a light on one of the best overhead marks in the history of the game.
Table of contents
- A PROMISING START
- THE 1921 GRAND FINAL
- A MAKE OR BREAK MOMENT IN LIFE
- 1922-24 A RISING STAR IN VFL FOOTBALL
- ALEX DEPARTS FOR STRATFORD
- 1926~ CARLTON AND INTO DEFENCE
- 1927~ALEX WRITES HIS NAME INTO HISTORY
- A SEMI-FINAL TO CAP OFF A STELLAR SEASON
- A BRIEF NOTE REGARDING HARRY CARTER
- 1928 ANOTHER FINAL DEFEAT AND INTERSTATE MATCHES
- 1929 ALEX MISSES THE PRELIMINARY FINAL
- 1930- LAST DAYS AT CARLTON
- COBURG 1931-35
- ALEX PLAYS FOR HAVELOCK IN THE IFL
- WARTIME DUTY
- ALEX LEAVES HIS MARK AT CARLTON
- ALEXANDER THE GREAT ~ TAKE YOUR PICK
A PROMISING STARTFrom his first training run at Princes Park, Alex Duncan (born 1900) made an immediate impact. The young man from Romsey FC was tall, athletic and skilled; and was described in one text as having ‘great dash’.
Alex first played for Carlton in Round: 1 of the 1921 season against Richmond at Punt Road. In a low scoring affair, Carlton hung on to win by 9 points. The Carlton team included such fine players as Horrie Clover, Bert Boromeo, Percy Daykin, Paddy O’Brien, Ernie Jamieson, Charlie Fisher and Charlie Canet.
Carlton finished on top of the VFL Ladder with 13 wins that season. Despite being beaten by Richmond in the Preliminary Final, the then-existing rule of the ‘right of challenge’ saw the Blues ‘saddle up’ again to vie with the Tigers for the flag.
In a memorable season for young Alex, he played 16 games and impressed onlookers with his strong and direct style of play. However, in the 1921 Grand Final there was one moment that would haunt Carlton fans (and perhaps Alex) for years to come.
THE 1921 GRAND FINALThe Grand Final against Richmond was a combative contest and, from all reports, the conditions of play were difficult. Steady rain, strong wind and the slippery MCG surface made attractive football virtually impossible; and goals were rare commodities as both defences ‘held sway’
Richmond was intent upon upsetting the Blues by targeting its star Bert Boromeo with close-checking and physical football that day Alex may not have been on Richmond’s ‘hit list’ but nevertheless he was flattened early in the first quarter.
The Blues led at every change but were just two points up at three quarter time. Both coaches Dan Minogue (playing coach of Richmond) and Norm Clark (Carlton) asked their charges to ‘dig deep’ for fame and glory.
A MAKE OR BREAK MOMENT IN LIFEAs the clock ticked down in that desperate last quarter, Carlton was two points ahead when Norm Turnbull marked thirty yards out from goal and converted truly to give Richmond a slender lead. A titanic struggle then ensued as each team played desperate and uncompromising football. The last stanza of the game was described as a ‘slog’ as the battle reached its climax in front of 43,000 frenzied fans…
“The finish to the match would develop into a classic as the two teams put their heads down and butted foreheads for the duration.” ‘The Richmond Guardian’.
As the Blues surged in the dying minutes, Alex Duncan had a golden opportunity to kick the ‘sealer’ for Carlton. What happened next is disputed and there are two existing versions of how Alex almost ‘stole the show’ that day for the Blues. Jim Main and Rohan Connolly in ‘AFL Grand Finals’ wrote…
“...the Tigers’ defence stood firm …until Carlton’s Alex Duncan won possession within scoring distance. Duncan lined up the ball and, just as his boot was about to make contact with the ball, a muddied figure in black and yellow appeared from nowhere to make a perfect smother. It was Tiger centre half back Max Hislop, who denied Carlton at last with his bravery. The Tigers held onto win by four points.”
However, Graeme & Brant Atkinson (‘The Complete Book of AFL Finals’…Page : 81) describe the last enthralling moments of the battle a little differently…
“…In the last minute, with the scoreboard unaltered, the ball flew towards Carlton’s Alec(x) Duncan, not far from goal. It looked a certain mark until Richmond’s vice-captain Max Hislop brilliantly hurled himself into the path of the ball and saved the 1921 Premiership for Richmond Football Club.”
Whichever account is true, there is no doubt that Max Hislop’s timely interception foiled Alex’s attempt to goal. Max had not only saved the day for Richmond but probably prevented Alex from becoming part of Carlton folklore.
Although Alex had kicked one of the team’s lowly four goals that day his ‘squandered’ chance, at the death knell, may have been at the back of his mind for years to come. Footballers, like fishermen, rarely forget the ‘ones that get away.’
‘Holmesby and Main’ refer to Alex giving away too many free kicks in that Grand Final. Perhaps had he goaled at that crucial moment Alex’s transgressions may have been ‘swept under the carpet’ at Princess Park. Club supporters are forgiving when their team triumphs. That aspect of football and has never changed.
The final scores were:
Richmond: 1.2 1.3 3.4 5.6 (36)
Carlton: 2.2 3.4 3.6 4.8 (32)
Goals for Richmond: Bayliss 2 Morris James Turnbull
Goals for Carlton: Duncan McLatchie Boromeo Stephenson
Best for Richmond: Hislop Smith Taylor Mc Intosh James Minogue Hughes Hall Weatherill
Best for Carlton: Boromeo McLatchie O’Brien Fisher Jamieson Greenhill Hiskins
An interesting fact from the 1921 Grand Final was that Jack McMurray (Snr) was the central umpire. Jack officiated in more than 300 VFL matches including 23 final matches and five Grand Finals. Jack also umpired in 15 interstate fixtures during his career. He retired from umpiring at the age of 47 years.
Note: Several texts also mention that Alex was selected for Victoria in his first year of VFL football which says much about his entry into VFL football. It is recorded that Alex represented the VFL on eleven occasions (See below regarding Alex’s selection for the VFL 1924-28).
1922-24 A RISING STAR IN VFL FOOTBALLAlex played 43 games in the next three seasons (1922-24). He gained a strong reputation as a key player in Carlton’s forward line and became a focal point in attack at centre half forward. Along with Horrie Clover, he was a potent force in the forward line for the Blues.
Carlton back Row 1922
According to Holmesby and Main….
“The respected Sporting Globe writer Jumbo Sharland wrote in 1923 that he had initially laughed at suggestions that Duncan was as good as his captain Horrie Clover, but after watching Duncan in action in several games he came to the conclusion that Duncan was as good a mark as Clover if not better and more certain.”
High praise indeed! Time would prove that Jumbo Sharland was ‘spot on’ in his appraisal of Alex’s ability overhead. He had strong hands and could match ‘all-comers’ in body contests and pack marking.
KICKING THE HABITApparently, Alex’s kicking was a weakness in his game and comment was made about his style and accuracy in several texts. ‘Blueseum’ states that Alex…
“…was unmistakeable on the field due to his unusual kicking action. As a boy, he had been taught to guide the ball all the way to his boot - giving him a hunched kicking style that invariably sent the ball long, but not always directly to the intended target.”
However, VFL records show that Alex kicked a bag of five goals in 1924 against St Kilda and on six other occasions he kicked four goals in a game.
In 1924 Alex won the CFC goal kicking with 27 goals, Horrie Clover (26) and Stewart McLatchie (26). Alex came third in the club goal kicking in 1922 (24 goals) and finished second in 1923 with 21 goals. In his VFL career, Alex kicked a total of 88 goals….79 of these were kicked prior to 1925 before he was switched into defense.
In the period that Alex played for Carlton (1921-1930), the average total of the club’s leading goal kicker was 43.4 goals per year. Perhaps Alex wasn’t as bad in ‘converting his opportunities’ as some of his critics alleged.
As most footballers know, it’s not the style of kicking that matters but rather how the ball makes contact with the boot at that crucial moment of impact. Style isn’t everything in life or football.
HORRIE CLOVERIt would be improper not to mention Horrie Clover in any story about Alex Duncan and Carlton FC during that era. Alex and Horrie were not only team mates at Carlton but also represented Victoria. Both were spirited club men and match winners for the Blues on their day.
Horrie Clover won the goal kicking award at Carlton on six occasions and, in a career that spanned eleven seasons (147 games), kicked 396 goals. Horrie (recruited from Maryborough in 1920) was captain and coach of the Blues in 1923 and again in 1927.
He captained the Victorian team in 1929 and represented the VFL in nine interstate matches.
In 1929 Horrie won Carlton’s Best and Fairest player award and served the club with great distinction and loyalty, as secretary and president in later years. He was named as an emergency in Carlton’s Team of the Century and was inducted in to the AFL Hall of Fame in 1996.
Note: It is in indeed a quirk of fate that the great two Blues, who had been team mates and companions Princess Park for a decade, both died in the same year (1984).
TRIBUNAL HEARINGAn article in ‘The Age’ (June 27th 1924) states that Alex was reported in a fiery match against Richmond in Round:9 that season. It must have been a ‘violent Saturday’ as Richmond’s star Donald Don was outed for the remainder of the 1924 season for striking Newton Chandler of Carlton. Ruben (aka ‘Chum’) Reid (Richmond) also received a three weeks suspension for charging Horrie Clover.
At the consequent tribunal hearing, Alex was found not guilty of any of the listed charges…
“A. Duncan (Carlton) was acquitted of the charges of kicking G. Rudolph (Richmond) and of elbowing C. Reid (Richmond) during the third quarter. A charge of making an offensive motion towards Boundary Umpire Johnson was also found unsustained.”
This appearance at the VFL Independent Tribunal was not the only occasion that Alex would be required to ‘face the music.’ During his career in VFL, VFA and in Gippsland football (see below) Alex was reported on several occasions by umpires. Alex wasn't one to take a backward step in any confrontation and was never daunted by the odds he faced.
THE 1924 AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIPSAlex was selected in the Victorian team in 1924- 26- 27 and 28. It is known Alex played 11 games for Victoria. There were two major Australian Carnivals in this period 1924-28; in 1924 the Carnival was held in Hobart and the venue for the 1927 series was Melbourne.
It is difficult to find comprehensive details of the match results but the ‘The Argus’ reported on the Victorian team selections for the Hobart Carnival in August 1924. Alex was selected in the VFL squad.
The Victorian team was:- M. Beasy, A. Duncan P. O’Brien (Carlton)…E. Wilson (Collingwood)…T. Fitzmaurice ( Essendon)…N. Cockram. G. Collins E. Elliot J. Moriarty L. Wigraft (Fitzroy)… E. Greeves L. Hagger A. Pink (Geelong)… A Chadwick V. Shelton R. Taylor ( Melbourne)… N. McIntosh V. Thorpe (Richmond)… R. Allison R. Cazaly J. O’Connell M.Tandy ( South Melbourne)… R. Brew (Carlton) and C. Watson (St Kilda).
‘The Argus’ reporter ‘Old Boy’ selected his ‘probable team’ for the first match in the series and although the aged and fading print makes reading difficult, it is possible to decipher that Alex was named at centre half forward, Roy Cazaly was on a flank while Jack Moriarty of Fitzroy was the spearhead in the team .The first-ever Brownlow Medallist Edward ‘Carji’ Greeves was selected in the squad along with Lloyd Hagger and Arthur Pink from Geelong.
Victoria won the Hobart Carnival. (For details regarding the 1927 Carnival see below)
ALEX DEPARTS FOR STRATFORD
In 1925 Alex shocked the football public by accepting the role as captain and coach of Stratford FC in Gippsland. One reference stated that he went to the Gippsland for the ‘sake of his wife’s (Olive) health.’
Stratford is a country town about (230 km/140 miles) to the east of Melbourne. In those days, Stratford had a population of about 600 people (1921 census figures) and was a service town for the surrounding agricultural areas.
According to the Stratford Historical Society, Stratford had one ‘of the best militia units in the state, if not the country, so teams were highly valued.’ Perhaps there is a link with Alex’s decision to go to such a remote part of the state. The ‘Blueseum’ website a states…
“While enjoying such a rich vein of form, Duncan was an attractive proposition for rival clubs. Before the days of contracts or formal agreements, players at all levels were free agents. So when the cashed-up Gippsland club Stratford made him an offer that included free rental of a house, a job and a hefty weekly pay packet (£8 per week) to captain-coach the Swans in, Duncan simply couldn’t refuse. To Carlton’s dismay, he left Princes Park at the age of 25, and went bush.”
The ‘Traralgon Record’ (8th May 1925) highlighted Alex’s debut for Stratford that season…
“Alex Duncan Stratford’s coach and captain marked his first game in Gippsland football last Saturday by winning the toss, playing a good game, kicking five goals and leading his side to victory.”
Stratford upset the highly fancied Sale FC the following week with Alex’s high marking being mentioned in the newspaper report of the game. Stratford defeated Sale by 19 points and Alex led the way with 4 goals. Stratford had started the year in fine fashion. The article also reported an incident in which Alex was involved during the match. A couple of weeks later ‘The Gippsland Times’ (21st May 1925) carried an article entitled…
“FOOTBALL TRIBUNAL GIBB (ROSEDALE), WILSON (SALE) DUNCAN ( STRATFORD) STOOD DOWN”
Unfortunately, the print on the page is virtually unreadable and only guesswork could piece the story together. However it appears that Alex’s actions in that match had brought about some dire consequences for him and SFC.
ALEX PLAYS HIS LAST GAME FOR STRATFORD FC
Apparently the last home and away match was ‘the decider.’ Stratford had to overcome Maffra to win a berth in GFL finals that season. However, it was not to be as Maffra controlled the game from the first bounce and went on to win by 37 points. The final scores were: Maffra 7.11.53 defeated Stratford 2.4.16.
Alex and his team had ‘stumbled at the last hurdle’ and the Swans missed the finals by ‘a whisker.’ The final four of the Gippsland FL that season was Traralgon, Sale, Maffra and Bairnsdale. Stratford FC won eight games (32 points) and had a percentage of 91.6%.
Alex’s stint as coach at Stratford came to an end with that defeat. It is difficult to judge how Alex had performed as a coach in that season. However, despite the blemish, as mentioned above, he received positive comments in match reviews and Stratford FC had been a competitive unit against some very strong Gippsland teams.
1926~ CARLTON AND INTO DEFENCEAlex returned to Carlton in 1926 and it appears that he moved from attack to defence in that period. As is often the case in football, he blossomed into a steadfast centre half back. From reading the available literature, Alex’s ability to consistently take strong overhead contested marks was a feature of his game as a defender. Carlton finished sixth on the VFL Ladder in 1926 with eleven wins.
Losses in the later part of the season were costly for the Blues that season. In Round: 15, South Melbourne won by 23 points and the crucial match in Round:17 saw Essendon withstand a strong Carlton finish to win by nine points.
Essendon scrapped into the final four on percentage ahead of a very unlucky South Melbourne team. Alex played thirteen games in 1926 and polled Brownlow Medal votes in three matches. His return to VFL football from Stratford FC could be rated as ‘satisfactory.’
1927~ALEX WRITES HIS NAME INTO HISTORYIn Round: in 25th June 1927, in the game against Collingwood at Victoria Park, ‘The Age’ reported that Alex had taken 33 marks in a sensational display of marking. In the annals of VFL history this game would become known as ‘Duncan’s Match.’
“His aerial work was simply perfection-some of his marks were hair-raising. Never was there such a brilliant individual performance. Nothing could stop him and he did not make a mistake in four quarters.”
The comments about Alex’s performance that day at Victoria Park were glowing and he received wide acclaim for his superb marking exhibition. There are several quotations that could be used to describe Alex’s domination over four quarters in that game, but the most laudatory words are to be found in a history of Collingwood FC entitled ‘The Mightiest Magpies’ by Michael Roberts. In his book, the following paragraphs were devoted to Alex Duncan….
“…by another loss at Victoria Park, this one an unexpected setback in Round 9 at the hands of Carlton- or more correctly the hands of Carlton centre half back Alex Duncan. The Magpies were beaten that day by what one observer described as ‘the greatest individual effort in the history of the game in Victoria’, with Duncan repelling countless Collingwood forward moves and bringing down an incredible 33 marks. His performance was so dominant that the Magpie players saluted him after the game and even the famously parochial Collingwood fans applauded him from the field.”
Collingwood’s Frank Murphy, who kicked two goals for the Magpies that day, added his voice to the tributes that Alex’s received…
“I never saw a finer display. Duncan was magnificent, and, in addition it was a pleasure to play against him for he was perfectly fair all through the game.”
Another extraordinary compliment was paid to Alex when the Collingwood Football Club presented him with the match-day ball …
“Collingwood, a football club not generally known for magnanimous gestures towards its opponents, were so impressed with Duncan's outstanding performance (perhaps, even, a best of all time performance) that they had the match ball suitably mounted and inscribed and presented the trophy to Duncan.”
A WELLS’ CARTOON DEVOTED TO ALEXIn Tony De Bolfo’s, remarkable history of Carlton FC entitled ‘Out of the Blue’ there is a copy of renowned cartoonist Sam Wells’ depictions of Alex’s marking performance that unforgettable day at Victoria Park.
It was somewhat like a badge of honour for Wells to make one player the subject of his football cartoons; and to have the entire sketch pad page devoted to Alex is a measure of the impact that his marking had upon the football public that day.
Note: Michael Riley has articles on this website related to Sam Wells and several other well- known football cartoonists/artists who brought so much joy to the readers of the sporting pages in those days.
In 1951 Ron Clegg of South Melbourne took 32 marks in a match against Fitzroy. Ron’s performance was described as…
“…one of the greatest marking displays since Carlton’s Alex Duncan took 33 in a game in 1927.” ‘100 Years of Football.’ Page: 191.
IN THE LIMELIGHT AGAINST FITZROY‘The Australasian’ newspaper gave a detailed description of an exciting contest between Fitzroy and Carlton in the 1927 season. Alex Duncan was again the star of the game and the main focus of the article…
“Carlton was exceedingly fortunate side to come out victorious in its engagement with Fitzroy. These neighbours have fought some stirring contests in the past, but few more thrilling than that on the Carlton ground last Saturday. It was a remarkable game, with a phenomenal finish, and Carlton can thank its handy half-time lead and the wonderful defence of Duncan, when the game was swinging against it for its victory, which was by the narrow margin of six points…. Carlton had been fairly rattled, and it was only the steadying influence of Duncan that saved the side. In this phenomenal last term Fitzroy added five goals four behinds…For the winners Duncan gave one of his best games, particularly in the last term, when his marking was a treat to watch” 30th July 1927.
A SEMI-FINAL TO CAP OFF A STELLAR SEASONIn 1927 Carlton played off in the First Semi-Final against Richmond and apparently there was little love between the teams that day. Richmond won by one goal in a match that had the crowd on its toes and at ‘full voice.’ The talented Harry Weidner (Richmond) left fly with a left drop kick, in the dying stages of the game, to see the Tigers home. Alex Duncan was named third best for the Blues in the match.
In 1927 Alex polled well in the Brownlow Medal and was runner up to Collingwood’s inspiring ruckman Syd Coventry. Syd polled seven votes and defeated Alex and Richard Taylor (Melbourne) by one vote. 1927 was an extraordinary season for Syd as he was selected as Collingwood’s captain and he also won the prestigious Copeland Trophy.
A BRIEF NOTE REGARDING HARRY CARTER
In 1927, Alex was a judged ‘Carlton’s Outstanding Player’ of the season and Harold Carter won the club’s goal kicking award with 33 goals.
For a footballer who played more than 100 VFL games, Harry Carter (born 1900) probably deserves greater recognition. Described as a dynamic rover, Harry played 38 games with Fitzroy before being cleared to Carlton in 1924. He then played 63 games with the Blues and kicked 54 goals.
According to the ‘Blueseum’ website, Harry Carter represented Victoria on two occasions. Very few Carlton supporters, if any, would be aware that Harry Carter actually captained the Blues, for one game, in 1927.
Note: Reading about Alex’s move from attack to defence, immediately brings to mind how a similar positional change saw Carlton’s Gordon Collis score a runaway win in the 1964 Brownlow Medal. (Gordon also credits the acquisition of contact lens as a factor to his improvement that season ).
THE 1927 CARNIVAL IN MELBOURNEThe sixth Australian Carnival was held in Melbourne in 1927. NSW, SA, WA, Tasmania and Victoria participated while the Queensland FL did not field a team that year. According to the ‘The Referee’ the Victorian selectors received harsh criticism from a certain scribe with the nom-de-plume of ‘Old Fitzroy’ for the omission of several notable players.
Bert Chadwick was selected as the captain; and five other Melbourne players were included in the squad(Ivor Warne-Smith, Bob Corbett, Bert Taylor:Richard Taylor, Herbert White and Stan Wittman). Some other clubs, particularly Fitzroy FC , fared very poorly with selection(s) for the Victorian team and this may have explained ‘Old Fitzroy’s’ irritation.
Alex Duncan was the only Carlton player included in the VFL squad.
The best and probable team named in ‘The Referee’ was:
|B:||Corbett (Melbourne)||Walsh (North Melb.)||Berryman ( South Melb.)|
|HB:||McCormack (Richmond)||Duncan (Carlton)||Chadwick (Melbourne)|
|C:||Geddes (Richmond)||Warne-Smith (Melbourne)||Taylor (Melbourne)|
|HF:||Baggott (Richmond)||Brown ( South Melb.)||Wittman ( Melbourne)|
|F:||Jerram (Geelong)||G. Coventry ( Collingwood)||White (Melbourne)|
Rucks: S. Coventry (Collingwood) Rudolph ( Richmond) Maher (Essendon) or Baker ( Geelong)
‘Old Fitzroy’s’ comments gave an impression that he had an ‘axe to grind’ and had his ‘nose out of joint’ regarding selection matters…
“…the team will have a severe struggle to retain the championship…”
However, the 1927 Carnival results proved that the Victorian hierarchy ‘got it right’ as the VFL easily accounted for Tasmania and South Australia on its way to winning the Championships.
It is difficult to unearth full details regarding the series. However, in one newspaper it was reported that Gordon Coventry kicked seven goals in Victoria’s thumping win over New South Wales.
Alex Duncan received little comment in the match reports; probably because the powerful Victorian forward line dominated proceedings in every game of the series.
The highlight of the 1927 Carnival was the unexpected win by NSW. In a thrilling encounter, NSW 12.11. (83) defeated Tasmania 11.14.80.
1928 ANOTHER FINAL DEFEAT AND INTERSTATE MATCHESThe 1928 First-Semi Final 1928 against Richmond was another disappointment for the Blues. In that game, Jack Titus went on a rampage and kicked six goals to inspire the Tigers to victory by 53 points. To rub salt into the Blues’ wounds ))Tommy Downs|Tom Downs)) was reported, by Umpire McMurray, and, as a consequence, was suspended for 12 weeks.
In June 1928, Alex again represented Victoria in the interstate clash against South Australia in Adelaide. Other players in the squad that travelled to Adelaide with Alex that weekend were Syd Coventry, Gordon Coventry, Jack Baggott, Albert Collier and Jack Moriarty.
‘The Adelaide Mail’ reported that some spectators had left the ground early thinking that South Australia had won the match. However, the scoreboard was incorrect and the official final scores were:- South Australia 11.22 (88) drew with Victoria 13.10.(88).
The VFL records indicate that Alex played his 100th VFL match against Essendon in 1928.
1929 ALEX MISSES THE PRELIMINARY FINALIn 1929 Alex played 18 games mainly in defence. However in Round:14 Alex went forward into attack and kicked three goals and was a major factor in a 13 point win over a determined Hawthorn team.
That season Carlton defeated St Kilda in the First Semi-Final. Alex did not play in the Preliminary Final against Richmond due to injury…
“Carlton had all its men at training yesterday except Duncan, whose ankle is troubling him. He injured it against St. Kilda, and it is not likely, he will be available on Saturday. In his absence Crowe may be transferred to the defence lines….” ‘The Argus’ September 18th 1929.
Carlton struggled for aerial superiority in the Preliminary Final and it is not unfair to say that the Blues missed Alex’s sure hands and hard body in the backline that day. The question on every Carlton supporter’s lips was… “Would the Blues have won if Alex had played that day?” No one really knows but the final scores must have left the Carlton fans rightly wondering. The scores were Richmond 15.7 (97) defeated Carlton 14.7 (91).
1930- LAST DAYS AT CARLTON1930 was to be Alex’s last season in VFL football and once again Carlton finished in the Final Four that season and faced off against Geelong in the First Semi-Final. On that day Alex was thirty years of age and he was the most experienced Carlton player with 141 VFL games. His teammate for many years, the brilliant Horrie Clover (35 years of age) had played 140 games with CFC.
Carlton, weakened by the loss of several key players struggled and was not aided by its wayward kicking in front of goal (21 behinds). With Jack Collins leading the way, Geelong went on to secure victory by 20 points. It was mothballs for the Blues and Alex stepped down from VFL football at the end of that season.
Although Alex had played in eight ‘finals’ he left the game without ever having played in a Carlton FC premiership team. Most players rank being a member of a premiership team as their greatest objective in playing football. In Alex’s case a VFL flag was an ‘elusive dream’ and he packed his bag and left Princes Park ‘empty handed.’
NB: Bobby Skilton of South Melbourne, Matthew Richardson (Richmond) and Robert Flower ( Melbourne) are other examples of elite footballers who failed to play in a VFL premiership team with their clubs.
COBURG 1931-35There was strong speculation that Alex would play football in the VFA after leaving Carlton. On April 16th 1931, ‘The Argus’ published the following…
“A. Duncan the Carlton centre half back is almost certain to play with an association club. He has been approached by a club secretary, negotiations are in progress and it is believed that Carlton will have no objections to granting him a clearance; he may appear with his new club on Saturday.”
Alex’s transfer to the VFA was exciting news for the Coburg fans and the announcement generated a great interest in the impending season. It was the sort recruiting coup that all VFA clubs hoped for in that era. In crossing to the ‘Association,’ former VFL stars like Alex rallied supporters, boosted the sale of club membership tickets and packed the stands.
In his debut for Coburg, Alex lined up on former South Melbourne champion Roy Cazaly and according to the ‘Australian Football’ website …
“In his first match for Coburg, against Preston, on 2 May 1931, playing against Preston's Roy Cazaly, Duncan was a tower of tremendous strength at centre half-back; however, he sustained several internal injuries, including bruised kidneys, in the match, and he was forced to miss the next match because his doctor had confined him to bed”
Alex became a celebrity in VFA football and there are many references to Alex’s brilliance for Coburg in the newspapers of that period. Alex received high praise when he led Coburg to a convincing 16 point win over Sandringham in June 1934. Alex kicked four vital goals and was listed among the best for Coburg.
In the VFA Grand Final that season, Alex played a ‘lone hand’ up forward and kicked eight of Coburg’s ten goals; but it was to no avail as Northcote recorded an easy victory and won its third VFA successive premiership. The final scores that day were: Northcote 19.16.130 defeated Coburg 10.9.69.
Link to Photo at SLV Website
SLV Accession no. H2008.122/435
Back row - T.Broom, Alex Duncan, W.Lowe, George Rudolph, Bill Leahy, N.Uhe.
Centre - Lloyd Bertram, Leo Voight, N.Willox, Jim Jenkins, Greg Stockdale (captain), Hugh Donnelly (ex-Northcote), W.Griffiths, A.Proudfoot.
Front row - Jack Harris, Clarrie Mears, F. 'Tosser' Kight, J.Hogan.
ALEX RETIRES FROM VFA FOOTBALLAt the end of the 1934 season, George Rudolph (ex-Richmond) stepped down as Coburg’s coach and Alex was appointed the club’s captain and coach for the 1935 season.
Although classed as a veteran, Alex was still in the sporting limelight and his name was mentioned in VFA reviews on a regular basis during that season. ‘The Argus’ (20th May 1935) reported that Alex kicked seven goals against Sandringham in a dominant display in the forward line…
“For Coburg Duncan was in great form in the full forward position. He marked and kicked excellently and finished with seven goals.”
‘Father Time’ eventually caught up with Alex and he was thirty-five years of age when he announced his retirement from VFA football.
“Applications are being called for by the committee of the Coburg Football Club for the position of coach….for the 1936 season. Alex Duncan, the former Carlton player was captain and coach last season but has announced that he intended to retire from the game. Duncan led the list of goalkickers for Coburg with 43 goals.” ‘The Argus.’
Coburg FC appointed former South Melbourne champion Peter Reville as coach for the 1936 season and a new era for the club began. Note: Peter Reville’s story can also be found on this website.
ALEX PLAYS FOR HAVELOCK IN THE IFLIt is documented that Alex also played football in the Industrial Football League with a team known as Havelock in 1936. ‘Havelock’ was a famous brand of tobacco; and the following extract from the ‘AuspostalHistory’ website may assist younger readers to appreciate how a tobacco company could support and finance a football team in those days…
“The ‘Virginia’ Tobacco Factory, Offices and Factory were located at 14 to 20 A’ Beckett Street, Melbourne, near Swanston Street. The Company’s Special Brands of Tobacco are listed and include Havelock, Aromatic and Havelock, Dark, both of Finest Quality. As well they have Havelock Cut Tobaccos and Cigars.”
Note: Boyles Football Photos is an excellent source of information regarding the IFL and the Havelock team.
The IFL received quite a deal of publicity in the newspapers; and it must have been a football competition of some standing in suburban football in those years. (Imagine playing ‘rough and tumble’ football on wet and freezing cold mornings in the middle of a Melbourne winter).
Around the time that Alex played for Havelock some of the other teams included…General Motors, Carlton Brewery, Ruskins Confectioners, Laygols, Dunlop, Kenworth, Raymonds, Hammonds, Abbotsford Brewery, Melbourne Boys’ Club and Electrolux.
The four main football grounds used for IFL fixtures were Richmond City, Port Melbourne, North Melbourne and the Motordrome.
Havelock appears to have been a strong outfit and had a measure of success in the competition. Occasionally Havelock FC made news in the mainstream press and sometimes, unfortunately, for the worst of reasons. In 1935, the following report of an ‘all-in’ brawl reverberated far and wide across the nation...
“The final match between Havelock and Dunlop in the Industrial Football League today ended in a wild melee. Many of the players and spectators participated in a mad brawl, punching, kicking and cursing, the umpire reported all the players in both teams” ‘Mirror’ (Perth)…Saturday 31 August 1935 Page: 7.
Note: There is no suggestion that Alex played for Havelock in 1935. According to this website, Alex did not play for Havelock until the 1936 season.
Alex played in the IFL Grand Final in 1936, only to be denied another premiership flag. It seemed to be the story of Alex’s luck in football. ‘Wikipedia’ states that…
“He (Alex) played in Havelock's Grand Final 6.16 (52) to 4.12 (36) loss to Victoria Brewery on 22 August 1936. The Havelock club withdrew from the competition before the start of the 1937 season, due to its difficulty in attracting sufficient suitable players. It returned to the competition in 1939”.
WARTIME DUTYIt was extremely difficult to find details of Alex’s life after football. ‘The Blueseum’ website is again a reliable source in providing information regarding Alex in his later years…
“In 1940, Alex volunteered to serve his country in World War II, and spent four years in uniform in a home defence role with the Royal Australian Engineers.”
The World War: II Nominal Roll reveals that Alex enlisted in the Army on the 3rd November 1941 at Royal Park and served until 6th October 1945. At the time of his discharge, Alex (V143551) was a ‘Private’ and his final posting was shown on the official document as ‘5th Army Troop Co. RAE.’ Alex would have been 45 years of age on the date of his discharge from the Army.
ALEX LEAVES HIS MARK AT CARLTONGeorge Robert Alexander Duncan died in 1984 at the age of 83 years.
In April 2014, Alex was named on a list of ‘150 Carlton Legends’ that was published to celebrate the Blues 150th Anniversary. ( ‘The Herald Sun.’ March 31st 2014).
Alex’s recognition as a ‘CFC Legend’ is fitting. Not only did he play eleven games for Victoria but he was arguably the best overhead mark in Australia at that period of time. While not always in the ‘good books’ with umpires, he was a spirited champion of Carlton and Coburg.
In summary, Alex Duncan was a dynamic, robust and gifted player who ‘controlled the air’ with his vice-like grip in contested marking duels and brought the fans to their feet with his thrilling mid-air displays either in defence or in attack. He is a legendary figure in football and he was one of the best-ever high marks at Carlton FC.
ALEXANDER THE GREAT ~ TAKE YOUR PICKIn 1967 a recruit also named ‘Alex’ ( Jesaulenko) arrived at Princes Park to play with the Blues and, in time, came to thrill the crowds with his own distinctive style of ‘aerobatics’ and ball control.
Forty years after Alex Duncan played his last game for Carlton, Alex Jesaulenko took, what is regarded by some experts, as the ‘most famous mark in the history of AFL football.’
In the 1970 Grand Final, Alex’s sensational ‘hanger’ flabbergasted the spectators at the MCG and millions of viewers watching the game on television. Alex Jesaulenko’s soaring mark, over Collingwood’s Graham Jenkin, that day was captured by the television cameras and has been replayed countless times over the years for football fans to discus, dissect and enjoy.
Jim Main and Rohan Connolly described it as the ‘mark of the century.’
As written, at the beginning of this story, it is such a pity that no film footage exists of that other Carlton champion named Alex (Duncan); however it is hoped that this story and accompanying photographs may assist readers appreciate the skills of Carlton’s brilliant aerialist of the 1920’s.